PEDAL POWER: Brent Ehrler's extreme-sports obsession - Major League Fishing
PEDAL POWER: Brent Ehrler’s extreme-sports obsession
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PEDAL POWER: Brent Ehrler’s extreme-sports obsession

In a world of fast boats and big water, fast bikes and big air keep California pro’s mind and body in shape for the rigors of the road
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March 4, 2023 • Joel Shangle • Bass Pro Tour

Brent Ehrler was bored. 

Three months into COVID-19 lockdown in the spring of 2020, the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup champion had run out of tackle to tinker with and odd jobs to do around his home in Redlands, California. So when Ehrler’s older brother Todd invited him to tag along with him and cousins Norm and Cody on a mountain bike ride in the canyons behind Ehrler’s home, the lanky pro agreed.

That despite his previous (and admittedly strong) disinterest in riding things with two wheels and pedals.

“I really disliked cycling in the past,” Ehrler admits. “My brother Todd and my cousin Norm used to race road bikes on the Olympic National team – they were full gas into cycling, and I really, really didn’t care for it. I grew up riding a BMX dirt bike, but that ended around junior high and I hadn’t been on a bike since. I guess it was perfect timing. Everyone was going stir crazy because of COVID, so when (Todd) asked me to ride with them, I thought ‘Sure, why not?’ – I needed something to do.”

Ehrler hopped onto a loaner mountain bike from Todd and away the group went to San Timoteo Canyon. And the rest, as they say, is history.

“That’s all it took, that one ride with my brother and cousins. I was obsessed,” Ehrler admits.

Ehrler’s obsession with mountain biking enhances his mental and physical health, which pays dividends on the tournament trail. Photo by Morgan Sandler

Ehrler’s two-wheeled obsession

It’s an unusually warm fall afternoon in Knoxville, Tennessee, a day off for Ehrler during competition at the 2022 Heritage Cup. Ehrler is storing his Ranger at Ott DeFoe’s home for the week, his rig parked near DeFoe’s garage, loaded down with Ehrler’s gear from the 2021 Bass Pro Tour. Ehrler is hard at work this afternoon, meticulously cleaning and detailing, a hose in one hand and various brushes, sponges, towels and tools in the other.  

But he’s nowhere near his Ranger or any of his Daiwa rods and reels. Today, Ehrler only has eyes for a mud-spattered, matte black-and-gray Specialized S4 Stumpjumper EVO Comp trail bike, a sleek-looking amalgam of carbon and gears that he’s just taken on a three-hour pedal around a nearby bike park. He’s sweaty, muddy and a little tired as he cleans the Stumpjumper; most noticeably, though, he’s over-the-moon enthusiastic about his two-wheeled obsession, and the way he’s just spent his East Tennessee afternoon.

“I found a really cool park that’s kinda known for its pump tracks, but there are a bunch of single tracks where you can ride tons and tons of miles,” Ehrler says, slinging around trail-riding slang like he’d sling a Lucky Craft Pointer Minnow. “I just like getting out and riding and breathing heavy. You see all kinds of cool things out there, and you feel so much better when you’re done riding. You feel like you’ve accomplished something.”

Ehrler, of course, isn’t lacking accomplishments in his fishing career. At $3.2 million in tournament winnings (and counting) as he enters the 2023 season, Ehrler ranks among the Top 20 bass earners of all time. He proudly displays the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup and the first-ever MLF Cup trophy (the inaugural Challenge Cup in 2012) in his home and has finished in the Top 10 in Angler of the Year standings 10 times on the FLW Tour, Bassmaster Elite Series and MLF Bass Pro Tour. 

His relatively newfound obsession with mountain biking is, according to Ehrler, a healthy addition to his weekly routine that benefits his brain and body in ways that can only enhance his performance in tour-level bass tournaments.  

“Mountain biking is a good mental break from the grind,” Ehrler says. “You’re not thinking about ‘Where am I going to catch one? How am I going to catch one? Man, the fishing sucks.’ It’s a good way to forget. And all the riding makes it easier for me to stand on the front deck of a boat all day. My cardio and endurance are so much better than before I was riding. If you’re physically fit, you’re way better mentally – and you know how mental this game is. If you’re physically drained, it’s pretty easy to be mentally drained, too.”

Ehrler’s bike accompanies him on the Bass Pro Tour, and he hits the trails when opportunity arises. Photo by Morgan Sandler

Taking pedal power on the road

Ehrler leapt into mountain biking with a vengeance after that first ride in 2020, borrowing his brother’s bike for a couple months, connecting with another loaner (a Specialized trail rider like he currently owns) and then buying his first “big boy” bike in November: a Specialized Turbo Levo Comp E-bike (with an integrated electric motor) that he customized with a 29-inch front wheel and 27.5-inch rear wheel (a “mullet” setup, for you bike nerds), Renthal carbon bars (“For a dampening effect; carbon flexes more,” Ehrler says), a custom seat and Crankbrothers Mallet Clip-In pedals.

“I had a Diamond Back Silver Streak (BMX) bike when I was a kid,” Ehrler says. “I had the black-and-white checkered foam on the bar and matching foam on my handlebar – I’ll never forget that bike. This is way better.”

So much better that, after riding his new speedster around San Timoteo Canyon, Zanja Peak and other trails near his home for a month, Ehrler bought a second bike – the Stumpjumper – to bring on the road with him as he traveled the Bass Pro Tour. He completed his first “tour” ride the morning before the first day of practice at the 2021 season opener at Sam Rayburn, Texas, and rode two to three days at every Bass Pro Tour tournament of the season except Lake Chickamauga. 

“I’d ride the day before practice and every off day I had during the tournaments,” Ehrler says. “I found some places close by everywhere I was staying, even in Florida [at the Harris Chain]. We were there in May, so it was really hot, but the place I found to ride was basically in a jungle. There was no sun, and it was nice and cool under these tree canopies. I found awesome places at Lake Travis, Dallas was fun, Raleigh was good. There were a ton of places that were fun.”

Not coincidentally, while he was having fun on the pedals, Ehrler was having a pretty smashing time on the Bass Pro Tour as well: He made five Top 10s, hovered in the top three in Angler of the Year standings throughout the year and eventually finished fourth in the 2021 AOY race, his highest AOY finish since 2014.

“I’ve thought a lot about the fact that I had such a good AOY year and was riding a lot that whole year,” Ehrler says. “It was easy to call audibles in events that year. Sometimes, you just make a decision, roll with it and it works. Other times, you’re so worried about making a decision that you’re not confident. I didn’t worry a lot about my decisions (in 2021), and I made a lot of good ones. Decisions came pretty easy.”   

Ehrler catches some serious air on one of two Specialized trail bikes he rides near his home in Southern California and on the Bass Pro Tour. Photo by Morgan Sandler

“E” is for “Ehrler” and “extreme sports”

To those who know him well, Ehrler’s fixation with barreling down a mountain on a 10-inch-wide track and flying at top speed over stumps and berms in the Tennessee boonies is no surprise. He grew up snow-skiing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with his family and was so enamored with the sport that he engineered a deal with his parents and his school district to homeschool himself his junior year at Loma Linda Academy High School while he worked at a ski resort in Taos, New Mexico. 

Ehrler, who worked as the assistant manager at a condo complex at the resort, would get up early every morning to tackle maintenance at the complex, bug out to the slopes from mid-morning to early afternoon, and then return to the condos to finish up any odd jobs in the evening before going to bed, getting up the next morning and doing all over again.

“I skied from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. almost every day my junior year – man, that was a good job,” Ehrler jokes. 

Ehrler, a natural athlete, was good enough at Alpine skiing that he entertained ideas of freeskiing being his fulltime occupation. He skied like a madman his first two years in college in Riverside, making full use of a buddy’s family vacation home at Mammoth Mountain while also balancing a burgeoning interest in tournament bass fishing.

“I thought I was going to ski for a living,” Ehrler confirms. “I really wanted to get into the Freeskiing National Championships. They called it ‘extreme skiing’ back then. You pick a mountain range, start at the top and just go down the mountain. There’s no course. You’re timed from top to bottom, and you get judged on your speed, line and air.  

“It’s the steep stuff. The cliffs and all. I wasn’t into racing gates (downhill and slalom). I thought I was a pretty good skier until I saw some of the World Cup guys and thought to myself ‘These guys are way too good; I can’t compete with them racing gates,’ but that wasn’t what I liked anyway. I liked the kind of skiing where you’re going fast, throwing yourself off a cliff.”

Full recovered after a serious accident in late 2021, Ehrler will likely bring his bike with him on the 2023 tournament trail. Photo by Morgan Sandler

The price for ‘extreme’

There’s an age-old saying about most sports where you go fast: “It’s not if you’re going to crash, it’s when you’re going to crash, and how bad.” In Ehrler’s case, the “when” came in the early fall of 2021 (roughly a month after his Knoxville rides) and the “how bad” was pretty bad. While riding a track in the woods on the outskirts of Dallas on an off day at the 2022 Patriot Cup, Ehrler landed a jump on his front wheel, went over the handlebars and smashed headlong into a berm.

He cracked his helmet in half (“I’m pretty sure I had a concussion,” Ehrler says) and broke two ribs on the right side of his body.  

“I landed on my front wheel, went over the bars and it kind of whiplashed me into this berm of solid dirt,” Ehrler says. “However fast I was going, all that momentum stopped instantly. The pain level was 10 out of 10 and I couldn’t breathe. I knew I had broken some ribs.”

Ehrler hobbled back to the hotel, leaned on Skeet Reese’s shoulder to make it from his truck to his room – “I basically had to carry Brent to his room,” Reese jokes – and gutted it out to tie tackle the next day and compete in the Sudden Death Round the day after. After three fitful nights’ sleep – “I’d lay in bed and could feel things moving around (in my ribs),” Ehrler says – he got up on the third day post-crash and drove his tournament rig 1,400 miles from Dallas to Redlands.

Unbeknownst to Ehrler, in addition to the broken ribs, he had also managed to partially collapse his right lung. After struggling through a neighborhood walk with his family the day after he made it home, Ehrler popped into a local urgent care facility for a quick exam and was quickly sent to the emergency room for a seven-hour stay, X-rays and a CT scan that finally revealed the scope of his injury.

The recovery kept Ehrler off his bike, out of a boat and unable to do any kind of physical preparation that winter for the start of the 2022 Bass Pro Tour in West Monroe, Louisiana, in early February. He felt it, too, finishing 49th at Stage One and 69th at Stage Two before pulling down a Top 10 at Stage Three on Smith Lake and climbing 54 places in the AOY race over the final five tournaments of the regular season. 

“I’ve been injured a bunch in the past, and usually it’s six weeks and you’re good to go,” Ehrler says. “The ribs took months to heal; they hurt forever. I had laid around all winter before the start of the season and was in poor physical shape when we started in February. It had to have been six months before my ribs finally felt 100 percent. It was a long road.”

Ehrler stayed off the Stumpjumper while on the road in 2022, allowing his body to heal and slowly building back up with local rides while he was home in Southern California. There’s a strong chance that the Stumpjumper will be back on tour in 2023, though, ready for the trails around Toho, Lake Norman, Douglas Lake, Lake Murray, Guntersville, Cayuga, Detroit and Saginaw Bay. 

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to go for it again,” Ehrler says. “It’s just so much fun being out there on new trails, and it keeps my mind fresh during the grind of the season. I’m in way better shape going into the season this year because I’ve been riding at home, and I’d like to maintain that. Yep. I think I’m going to go for it. Who out there wants to ride with me?”